Do blocked or locked exits really matter?

We frequently see exits that are blocked.  It may be a fan placed there in hot weather, a forklift parked in the exit way, boxes and pallets stacked there or items being readied for shipping.

Exits may be locked (for security reasons, to keep people out). They may not be clearly marked or be hard to find.  Does it matter?

  • In 1903, the Iroquois Theater in Chicago caught fire.  It is the deadliest fire in theater history–with over 600 dead.  Part of the cause of so many fatalities was blocked exits.
  • In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York resulted in the death of almost 150 people, mostly young, immigrant women.  One of the issues was that there was only one exit–the exits were normally kept locked so that they could not be opened from the inside.
  • In January 2013, 230 people died in a nightclub fire in Brazil.  The lone exit was blocked.
  • According to a recent OSHA newsletter, a company in Honolulu recently received over $230,000 in citations, including blocked exits.

There are many other examples, recent and past, in the US and abroad.

What you need to do:

  • At least a 28″ aisle must be maintained in front of and to any exit. 
  • Exits must be visible, clearly labeled.  Illuminated exit signs with emergency lighting are a good way to accomplish this.
  • Mark off exit paths and enforce no stacking of product, no placing of items or equipment and no blocking of the exit.  If it is a perpetual problem, ask employees why and what suggestions they have for keeping the aisles and exits clear.
  • If exits need to be locked for security reasons (to prevent unauthorized entry), a panic bar exit lock may be installed.  It allows the door to be opened in one movement from the inside, but remain locked on the outside.  The starting cost is around $75– a pretty inexpensive investment compared to OSHA fines, fire code violations and potential fatalities.

We hope an emergency, such as a fire, never happens.  But if it does, employees need to be able to see their way to the exits and get out quickly.  How does your facility measure up?

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